NATO denounces UN nuclear weapon ban treaty

In a Press Release dated 20 September, NATO denounced a UN treaty banning nuclear weapons as unrealistic and claimed that it risked undermining the international response to North Korea's nuclear arms programme.

The NATO statement was timed to coincide with the opening day for signatories to the first legally-binding treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. Despite the NATO intervention, 51 countries attached their names to the treaty, which will enter into force 90 days after 50 states have ratified the treaty (3 of the 51 signatories have so far done so).

The Treaty—adopted on 7 July this year at a UN conference in New York by a vote of 122 in favour to one against (Netherlands), with one abstention (Singapore)— requires all countries that eventually ratify it not to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons “under any circumstances”. However, no nuclear armed state participated in the treaty negotiations and none have shown any willingness to sign it. The United States pressed other NATO member states and partners to boycott the discussions, and since the treaty was adopted Washington has continued to lean on partners, for example, threatening Sweden that defence industrial cooperation between the two nations could be endangered if it signs the treaty.

“The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the product of increasing concerns over the risk posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons, including the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of their use,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the signing ceremony, held on the margins of the General Assembly’s high-level debate. “The Treaty is an important step towards the universally-held goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. It is my hope that it will reinvigorate global efforts to achieve it”, he added.

In contrast, however, the NATO statement said, "At a time when the world needs to remain united in the face of growing threats, in particular the grave threat posed by North Korea's nuclear programme, the treaty fails to take into account these urgent security challenges”. It added: "Seeking to ban nuclear weapons through a treaty that will not engage any state actually possessing nuclear weapons will not be effective, will not reduce nuclear arsenals, and will neither enhance any country's security, nor international peace and stability. Indeed it risks doing the opposite by creating divisions and divergences at a time when a unified approach to proliferation and security threats is required more than ever".

The disruptive intervention from NATO came a day after US President Donald Trump told the UN General Assembly in New York he was ready to "totally destroy" North Korea, mocking its leader Kim Jong-Un as "Rocket Man... on a suicide mission".

Further reading: Ian Davis, NATO’s opposition to the treaty banning nuclear weapons: Or why the Netherlands attempted to plug the nuclear deterrence dyke by voting against the treaty, NATO Watch Briefing No. 57, 18 August 2017